Jose Mari, poster boy of the 60s

Eleven years ago, this visionary taught us that there is such thing as a telenovela  by  introducing  “Marimar.”

Many may also remember him as the main protagonist in the first physical bout by a congress official captured on television.

The younger film aficionados on one hand could easily identify him as the father of sexy actress Cristina Gonzalez.

But without a doubt, children of the 60s knew him by heart for they grew up chanting his name in a rhyme that goes “Amy-Susie-and- Tessie, Romeo- Juancho –and- Jose Mari’, and so on, and so forth.   This verse delivered in a sing-song manner, matched by a rapid hand drill was a major source of amusement to young  pinoys at that time.

Jose Maria Gonzalez a.k.a. Jose Mari first came into the Filipino consciousness when he was introduced as the ‘first star of 1959” in the movie “Palaboy.”  And rightly so, for the next six years, he reigned as filmdom’s top male matinee idol.

His showbiz journey started when he became a poster boy for a softdrink.

“I posed for a Coke ad with Amalia (Fuentes), where I was paid 75 pesos,” he says.  “I didn’t know she was an actress.  Aba, nung lumabas ang commercial, ‘pinahahanap ako ni Doc Perez. Tapos, maganda ang offer. Kikita ako ng 35 thousand per picture.  Makakabili na ako ng 3 Mercedes Benz at that time, di ba?  Kasi, dose mil lang ang Mercedes noon eh.  Yung 35 thousand noon ay malaki pa sa kinikita ngayon na pang-limang milyon kasi, hindi ka makakabili ng isang chedeng.” .

“I was already 24 when I joined showbiz”, he continues, “pero ayaw ‘pasabi ni Doc Perez because he packaged me as a 17 year-old matinee idol.  In reality, I was already an electrical engineer.  In fact, I had four companies.  May eroplano pa ako noon.  I already passed a Clark Field exam for Korean war pilots.  Magpipiloto sana ako sa U.S. Air Force but my papa convinced me to work for him as Vice President of our company, yung Romago (Electrical Company., Inc.).”

His was an instant stardom. “In my first movie,’Palaboy’, I portrayed the brother of Gloria Romero. Pumutok yon, tapos, sunod-sunod na. Most of my movies paired me with Susan (Roces).”

While practically a newcomer, acting didn’t faze Jose Mari because he had been on so many plays while he was a student.  “Hindi naman ako nanibago. Nag-a-acting ako dati sa La Salle .”

He has only the fondest memories of his heydays. “Ibang klase ang mga fans noon. They would visit you at your house, na may dalang regalo. Those who couldn’t buy gifts brought flowers. I was the only star who received four thousand fan mails a week.  I hired eighteen secretaries to handle that. ‘Pag sinasagot ko, may colored photo pa.

“In Sampaguita, the movie stars were trained to talk in English.  Tinuturuan kami para mag-make-up sa sarili, may reading, may drama class.  Professional talaga ang dating.  And when we arrived late on the set, may multa worth 500 pesos.  In today’s standard, that would amount to 50 or 100 thousand pesos.  Training yun sa professionalism.”

He adds: “My favorite films were “Handsome”, “Palaboy” and my action film, “Sugat sa Balikat.” Anim na taon lang akong nag-artista, from 1959 to 1966.  Eventually, I had to choose between my corporations and the movies.  Saka noong 1966, wala ng script ang mga pelikula.  Noong nawala na, ayoko na.”

Later years saw Jose Mari in and out of the limelight as a congressman for the lone district of San Juan City in the 11th Congress,  an electronic expert who analyzed the composite tape of the Ninoy Aquino murder for the 1984 Agrava Commission, and as an executive of  Bureau of Broadcast and RPN 9.

When asked about the physical quarrel in Congress that was captured by a live TV, he simply said: “Minura ako ng sergeant- at- arms. Kinarate ko s’ya. Hindi mainit ang ulo ko.  ‘Wag mo lang akong hihiyain sa maraming tao. Napikon ako.”

A man has got to defend his honor some time. After all, his good name is a legacy of his father, Roque.  “He is my personal hero. He taught me the value of honesty, saka ang pagtulong sa mahirap.  When he died, we learned that he sent 600 students to college.  Nagpuntahan sila during his wake.

“The saddest part of my life was when I joined politics and realized that I cannot make a difference. Yung pangarap ko, parang bula na nawala.  Akala ko kasi noon, may makikilala akong  honest na pulitiko. Hindi ko masikmura yung gagalawin yung pera ng taong-bayan.  I saw the reality.

“We’re still in the dynasty age, where families rule each municipality. Habang ganoon, hindi tayo aasenso because they have their own interest eh.

“I started in public service when my brother Paco got involved in a case. The judge was asking for three thousand pesos Lumapit ako sa NBI. ‘Sige, bigyan natin ng mark money’.  Ayun, nakulong ang judge. After that, I received 27 thousand letters from different families na nagpapasalamat sa akin. Doon napukaw ang social consciousness ko.  It was also one of my proudest accomplishments. Imagine 27,000 families ang inapi n’ya.”

Now, just how “Marimar” came into being?

“When I was president of RPN 9 during the time of  FVR (Fidel Valdez Ramos), I was looking for a series, both American or local, that could be pitted against the prime time shows of major networks.  I started dubbing Mexican telenovela in tagalog in  ‘La Traidora’. Eh medyo kumakagat.  Then, my friend Pedro Font, the Director of Sales of Televisa Internacional,  offered me ‘Marimar’.

“When I saw it, I said:’Naku, ‘eto yung hinahanap ko!’ Taas ang balahibo ko. Pinoy na pinoy ang dating.  Ang ganda ng editing at fast-paced lahat.

“But then, our sales force negated the idea dahil hindi raw maiintindihan ng mga Filipino dahil fast-cutting. Ganoon kababa tingin nila sa Filipino viewers samantalang  nanonood ng  American films ang mga pinoy? But I believed in my idea and I said: ‘Yung hindi susunod sa akin, mag- resign.”  The rest is history.

Jose Mari is married to former model, Charito, for almost 45 years now.  They are blessed with five children and ten apos.

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